Madeira Destination Guide
The island's picturesque environment provides just the right ambiance for leisure, rejuvenation and relaxation. Discover the old therapeutic powers of water and earth as you explore Madeira's unspoilt landscape.
Our Madeira Destination Guide below tells you all the highlights of a visit to this beautiful island of Portugal. Taking a locally run Madeira tour is the ideal way of exploring all that Madeira has to offer. Also check out our Portugal Destination Guide for more general information about travelling throughout Portugal.
Things to See & Do in Madeira & Porto Santo
The capital city of Funchal is home to a huge harbour where some of the world's largest and finest cruise ships dock each year. Some of the other noteworthy landmarks are the lovely Botanical Gardens, the magnificent Cathedral, and the daily fish, vegetable and flower markets. The historical churches and chapels scattered over the island have interesting architecture, while the paintings, tiles and panels, as well as the religious relics within these churches are worth seeing.
The small island of Porto Santo near Madeira can be reached by boat in two and a half hours or by plane from Madeira Airport in a quarter of an hour. It has a well known 9 km long white sandy beach.
One of the first dwellers on the island and the sole reason for the island landing on a tourists' map is the famed explorer, Christopher Columbus. While visiting Madeira in 1478, he fell in love with Filipa, the daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrello, Porto Santo's governor. The only tourist spot on the island is Christopher Colombus' house- a white washed, two storied structure which houses a copy of his diary, maps of journeys undertaken by him, and some drawings. It is situated in Vila Baleira.
Vila Baleira is a sleepy city and much like a model town with its courthouse, town-hall, and a small white church with a tolling bell all set around the medieval style cobblestoned square. Apart from these, there are a couple of supermarkets which opened recently, a shop which gets two day old copies of The Daily Mail and a cash centre. The remaining shops will remind you of the 1950's as they sell shell windmills and rose patterned china. Grapes and melons are locally grown here.
Santana, located in Madeira, has abundant greenery, fruits, vegetables, willow trees and gorgeous scenery, and should be placed on the must-see list of tourists. The architecture of the astonishingly designed, triangular-shaped thatched houses in this area date back to the 16th century and are designed to provide protection from the heavy rain.
A simple fishing village, Camara de Lobos with its authentic fishermen and fishing ambience, has drawn travellers and holiday-makers to it for years. Several fishermen have made their homes here and the village is quaint and scenic with a central and well known 15th century chapel. Don't miss seeing the Cabo Girao which is a huge sea cliff.
Art lovers will thoroughly appreciate the Museum de Arte Sacra with its collection of magnificent paintings, artistic/creative collections, and amazing artifacts. The museum is also renowned for its collection of famous 15th and 16th century Flemish paintings from Antwerp, Bruges and Malines which are large and of high quality. Within the museum there are numerous halls which display sculpture, fine art and religious jewellery. Worth noting is the gold plated silver processional cross on display, which was a gift from King Manuel I of Portugal.
The poaching and hunting of whales was practiced off the Madeira coastline for many years. Whale hunting was banned in 1981 which has given the sperm whale the chance to return from the brink of extinction.
This fascinating museum in Madeira displays the services offered by the "House of Electricity" or Casa da Luz- the electric company which is now in its 100th year, and the historical effect it has had on the Madeira and Porto Santo islands.
Geological, biological, and zoological records of minerals and species of the Archipelago of Madeira are found in this municipal museum. The museum was originally the home of the Count of Carvalhal. It also has a tiny aquarium of live marina fauna and flora. A news archive and a library are also found in the museum.
This popular theme park in Madeira Island provides excellent activities for families and larger groups. It has a lovely garden, playground, boating lake and key sports for enjoyment. It also has virtual reality shows on the customs and history of the island, as well as on the environment and science.
A visit to the beautiful beaches on the island of Madeira is a must while vacationing there. Several water sports make it a popular and well known summer destination for travellers and visitors.
Most people visit Porto Santo for its nine kilometre long, soft, golden sand beach. It runs most of the length of the southern side and is proven to have curative properties (by the Scientific University on mainland Portugal). The warm and calm sea makes it safe for children and a perfect place to master water sports like wind surfing.
Levadas are irrigation systems that run around the mountain and were built by the island's first inhabitants to carry water to remote farming areas in the island. Madeira has an incredible network of levadas and other trails. Hikers are taken into an extraordinary natural world when they explore the over 200 levadas covering the basalt rock masses on the island.
Every kind of water sport - scuba diving, sailing, wind surfing, surfing, water skiing, canoeing, and deep sea fishing is available on the island. Lovers of land sports can try their hands at paragliding or sliding over a deep gorge.
Explore the bountiful seas surrounding Madeira for a truly wonderful experience. Madeira is well known as one of the best areas for large game fishing in the world. Tuna and huge blue marlins are found here. Garajau marine reserve is Portugal's biggest marine sanctuary and is located in Funchal. Diving is essential here if you want to view the great variety of turtles, fish and other sea life. At least fifteen species of whale can be seen in the immediate waters and dolphins are a short boat ride away.
The Madeira Aquarium in Porto Moniz, built from the ruins of the Forte de São João Baptista, offers you a guided tour through the "World of Silence." It displays 12 themed tanks, the largest with a capacity of 500 000L. You can enjoy a breathtaking view of the vast and complex diversity of the living marine fauna of Madeira.
Opening Time: 10:00 to 18:00 every day.
The Madeira Story Centre in Funchal is a museum about Madeira Island history and culture. Located in the old part of town, the exhibition draws on interactive displays that will allow you to learn about the History of the Island while feeling the environment of the different periods of history, from its volcanic origins to present time through smells, sounds, interactive games and challenges which will capture visitor’s attention. It is a good place to start a visit to Madeira Island. It gives a panoramic view over the archipelago.
Besides the museum, the Madeira Story Centre also offers a shop with the best souvenirs, art and crafts in town, and a themed café explored by Penha D’Águia, a centenary cake shop in Funchal.
Opening Time: 10:00 to 18:00 everyday except the 25th of December.